PULLMAN – For 15 long years, the Washington State women’s basketball team has failed to post a single winning record.
Most of those WSU teams were not just bad – they were horrendous. Their games weren’t competitive, the skill level was minuscule, and the stands were empty.
That’s beginning to change. Slowly but surely, WSU women’s basketball has improved under former Washington Huskies coach June Daugherty. The 9-7 Cougars already have one more win than they registered all last season, and one of the biggest crowds in team history may be on hand today when WSU takes on the Huskies (7:30 p.m., Root Sports) at Beasley Coliseum.
The Huskies’ 16-year, 32-game winning streak against WSU began the year before Daugherty started coaching at Washington, which she now refers to as “the school on the other side of the state.”
Naturally, Daugherty would love to beat the school that fired her after nine postseason appearances in her 11 years there. That said, Daugherty can’t possibly want to win any more than fiery WSU senior wing Jazmine Perkins.
“People see her play, everybody wants to know who she is,” Daugherty said. “They want to know about her because she plays so doggone hard.
“You can tell she plays with huge passion. She looks like she’s playing with her hair on fire.”
Perkins leads the Pacific-12 Conference with 3.1 steals per game, and she leads the well-balanced Cougars with 9.4 points and 7.7 rebounds. WSU is 3-1 in the Pac-12, tied for second behind Stanford, and Perkins says the Cougs are ready to bring down the Huskies (9-5, 1-3).
“All that streak stuff, that has nothing to do with our play,” Perkins said firmly. “We’re a different basketball team than we’ve ever been since I’ve been here.”
Perkins, who earned a variety of All-America honors four straight years at Berkeley (Calif.) High School, was part of Daugherty’s first full recruiting class at WSU.
Daugherty was impressed with Perkins’ intense, athletic style of play – “she was one of the quickest, most explosive athletes in the country” – but the coach said she also counted on Perkins’ character to deal with a landslide of losses during the rebuilding process.
“One of her biggest gifts is how big her heart is,” Daugherty said.
Perkins’ intensity has boiled over at times – “Jaz and I have had a lot of sit-down conversations,” Daugherty said with a laugh – but Daugherty said Perkins is “very bright” and has learned from her mistakes. Daugherty raves about Perkins’ volunteer work with youths in Pullman, on and off the court.
“I think our whole team is just really proud to see how far Jazmine has come since when she first got here,” teammate Carly Noyes said. “She just matured a lot.”
Berkeley, a city with more than its share of crime and poverty, can be a tough place to grow up. That is particularly true for a young woman like Perkins who had limited contact with her father for years.
“She came from a tough, tough situation,” Daugherty said.
Basketball proved to be Perkins’ way out of Berkeley, though she grew up wanting to play for the hometown California Bears (her mother works in the Cal registrar’s office). Perkins honed her game on Berkeley playgrounds.
“I always played with the guys,” Perkins said. “I didn’t want to play with the girls because they were always, oh, you bump into them and they fall.
“My Berkeley High teammates, we all played with guys. We would go get our girls team and go play against guys and tell them, ‘You know we’re gonna beat y’all today, right?’ And we did win.”
Perkins said her relationship has improved with her dad, but she proudly notes that she was raised and inspired by her unmarried mother, who starred in track and field at Chico (Calif.) State when Perkins was young.
“I learned how to survive from my mom,” Perkins said.
Perkins, an energetic sort with a wide variety of artistic skills and interests, will soon graduate with a degree in arts of humanities. She hopes to play pro basketball – “That’s my next dream” – and Daugherty is confident Perkins will succeed with or without basketball in her life.
“It’s a great success story,” Daugherty said, “and we’re really proud of her.”